not in Primary anymore

don’t call me a lamanite

guest post by Mat Sillito


I’d like to take a moment to talk about race and the Mormon church.  No, not THAT race issue.  Although never specifically denied the priesthood, my ancestors, sisters, and brothers have had racism to deal with in this church that has been subtler, but undeniable, and they are issues that have never really been officially addressed.  Much of the racism and exclusion can be centered around one word: Lamanite.

See, as long as I can remember I’ve been one.  At least, that’s what people have called me, once they found out that my mother is an immigrant from Mexico (and not from the colonies, although I’ve been asked that too, since our skin is much lighter than people assume Mexicans should have.)  Native Americans, Latinos and Pacific Islanders get called Lamanites, or really, anyone with dark skin who isn’t black.  BYU even used to have a dancing group called “Lamanite Generation.”  (Really.  Google it.)

Why does all this matter?  Why does it matter if I’m called a Lamanite?  Well, I used to not care.  After all, when people call me that they also say that it is a good thing, that it means that I have accepted the gospel.  That my being in the church is a fulfillment of prophecy.  The tribe of Ephraim has reconverted the tribe of Manasseh.  The church being filled with Lamanites – usually demonstrated by the church’s high success rate in South and Central America – is the fruition of millennia-old prophecies to our father Abraham.  It is the completion of the grand promise of my race.

Except, who is that race?  Even assuming all this is true (which depends on the historicity of the Book of Mormon, something I don’t even want to touch in this post) it would mean that my ancestors are the bloody barbarians who wiped out the chosen people.  The scourge God used to wipe out His beloved Nephites when He was unhappy with them.  Like carrion rats cleaning the rot, my ancestry is the divine pest remover.  That’s hardly a legacy anyone wants pushed onto them.  But even that I can leave aside.

Because there is a much bigger issue here.  Notice who gets called Lamanites?  Basically anyone who isn’t white, black, or Asian.  My Chicano history goes together with my islander sisters and brothers, the plains American Indians, the Aymara people of the Altiplano, even the conquerors of native peoples of the American continents whose blood is forever mingled with those native peoples.  Literally hundreds of indigenous groups, with stories, legends, myths, religions, beliefs, languages, and histories all decimated and erased with a single word: Lamanite.

I have tried my whole life to understand the complex interaction between imperialist and native, conquistador and American people, and how that plays out in modern history, where abused and murdered people try – and often fail – to win the right to exist.  Where we try to make sense of the genocide and land grabs the modern Western world was founded on.  To understand the permanent comingling of oppressors and oppressed that defines the North and South American landscape.  To come to grips with the fact that my veins pump with both the blood of killers and killed.  But I’m too busy to understand that multifaceted and dark history that drips and drains into the present.  Too busy being a Lamanite.

In the Mormon church, that’s what I have been, and all I will be.  But I’m done with it.  I’m not your Lamanite.  I and the millions of people like me, with cultures and histories infinitely more rich than that never will be.  So don’t call me a Lamanite.  I never was.

16 Responses to “don’t call me a lamanite”

  1. Zeb

    Life is just so unfair for you. Meanwhile millions of the LGBTQA community are being denied basic rights.

    • Megan Howarth

      Zeb it’s not an oppresssion olympics. It’s possible to acknowledge both, to simultaneously care about racism and LGBTQIA+ issues.

    • Sonny

      Are you serious? One group’s problems don’t cancel out another’s, and also, you have no indication that the author of this post isn’t queer.

    • Dan K

      I know for a fact the author of this post is pro-LGBT rights, so maybe don’t be so excited to condemn an ally. Everyone is entitled to have acknowledged the pain of their ethnic and cultural detritus.

    • meganhowarth

      Is there a reason you come onto every new post and simply type the word “lol”, Pete? If you have genuine criticism, then by all means, tell us; we can handle it. Otherwise I’m asking you to stop denigrating posts that people have a lot of time and effort into.

    • Anonymous

      Pete is the trollolol who lives under the YMF bridge.

      As for the post — really enjoyed reading it.

      • Pete

        It couldn’t be that the content is laughable?? One wonders..

  2. JayJay

    I agree with the post– it is ridiculous to use the term Lamanite for modern day people. BOM historicity aside, there’s no reason to believe the people called Lamanites have many/any posterity. The BOM introduction page has changed over the years, once indicating that Lamanites were the ancestors of the Central and South Americans, then that they were primary ancestors, and now that they are among the ancestors. So even the church knows that it isn’t likely that is any relation between Lamanites and modern Americans. I certainly don’t get calling Pacific Islanders Lamanites, it doesn’t even make sense. Pacific Islanders’ ancestors are from Asia not the Middle East or America.

  3. Anonymous

    Tell anyone who calls you a Lamanite to read 1491 by Charles C. Mann. White people (I say that as a white person) are often less threatened / more open to hearing blunt truth when it’s delivered to them by a fellow white (and a man), which Charles is. It is a solid, concrete description of the Americas before and during European occupation. It shows just how diverse the cultures of the Americas were throughout history. The BoM got zero things right about the western continents because it was written in ignorance by someone with all the racial biases of his time. Reading an overview of the real cultures that pre-dated European invasion should be a tremendous eye-opener for people who believe “Lamanites” are a real thing. They are as real as unicorns and were created for the benefit of a white man, so that he could call himself a prophet and the one, true voice of a (literally) white god.

  4. Surname Blanco

    I somewhat agree as, one with ancestry that comes from mexico and spain. I am an ephraimite, none the less.

    Also LGBT has nothing to do with race and has nothing to do on this post. It’s a made up issue promoted by liberals, femmi’s, and other confused hate groups.

  5. kim cherrine

    i’m an “older’ reader who just found the blog from city weekly..This article..Spot on..I get it..I look as lily white and Euro as they come and so we gen work and Umm..American Indian, Persian, And several other Heinz variants pop up..What do I get from those who find out among church members, actual lose of friends, change of attitude, and suspect attitudes of being “other”. And not in my head, including some of the in this day and age with DNA …REALLY? All I can say is my family has some truly juicy history. And I celebrate every aspect of it that brought me to be!

  6. Warner Woodworth

    Readers may be interested to know the Church told members to stop using the term Lamanite years ago. Some might still use that term, but you won’t see it much in official docs, etc…


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